Multiple reports are pointing to a big problem for beer drinkers. There is a can crunch in America. The pandemic has seen a rise in hard seltzers. In addition, craft brewers have had to change their primary market from the taproom to the home market. What does that mean for our local craft breweries?
In the short term, we should be OK as our local favorites already had a retail footprint in Wegmans, Tops and other retail outlets and have an established supply chain. But longer term, we could be facing a shortage in packaging material. According to Neil Reid, a professor at the University at Toledo, he writes that there was a hint of a shortage as far back as 2015. The self-professed Beer Professor, he is an expert on the impact of breweries on communities.
His take? “Soft drinks, hard seltzers and even cold coffees are being canned. And now, cans are among the preferred vessel of craft beer drinkers.” But what if that is not the case? There is the urban legend that Mexican drinkers prefer their Corona from cans as they are considered more sanitary. But in the United States, bottles are not considered inferior. And in Canada, they are the norm, with Molson and Labatt bottles in reusable bottles going in and out of Beer Stores run through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).
If there is a can shortage, is there a solution?
If there is a can shortage, is there a solution? There is. And it may be a way to help brand our local craft breweries and create a premium image for their product. In the state of Oregon, they launched the first refillable craft beer bottle system in 2018. Double Mountain Brewery changed the course of their local craft beers by bottling their beer in returnable bottles similar to those use by Canadian brewers. They started with low returns, but stuck with it as they were concerned with the carbon footprint of the bottles. They now have an agreement with the Oregon Beverage Recycling Cooperative to return the bottles, which can be refilled as many as 40 times.
The Cooperative is similar to our local Beverage Industry Collection and Sorting (BICS) that collects our local deposit bottles and cans. The footprint of craft brewers is strong in the Buffalo and Rochester markets, and there is a NY Brewers Association with 295 members across the state. What if local brewers switched to a reusable bottle that would be as robust as the bottles used by our Canadian brewers? Some of our local craft brews would need to repackage their brews, but there could be a marketing benefit. Bottles could be branded with a “Made in NY” tag on the label or the imprint could be added to the bottle (think of a Frank’s Hot Sauce Bottle). In addition, reusable bottle takes less energy to be reused than it does to be recycled and is ready for reuse quickly. The switch to a reusable glass bottle is not only more sustainable, but is more dependable with the current issues with aluminum cans. And compared to cans, the flexibility in labeling has the benefit of being able to quickly change with the changing batches that are created by our creative breweries. This would bring us back to the days before disposable bottles overtook the Genny Pounder as the choice of our local consumers.
Lead image: Photo by Elevate